Thursday, June 26, 2014

You've Got a Nothic Thing Coming

WotC has released a sample page of monsters from the Starter Box. Keep in mind that the whole point of the Starter Box is to train budding new DMs. That said, I think there’s both good and bad in what I’m seeing here:

First, the bad: why no picture of the nothic? Maybe it’s on another page? This is clearly a bizarre thing. Does it have working hands? Legs? Or does it move about upon a giant slimy tail, like a slug?

Nothics have traditionally been goofy-looking critters with no more backstory than “humanoid that wants to eat your face and has wacky eye powers.” Clearly, WotC wants to change this, and I love the notion of them being mutated wizards who have peered too long and too deep into the abyss. (Though doesn't that better fit warlocks?  And how, exactly, does one turn into a nothic?  What should PC wizards do to avoid such a fate, and can a foe trick them into it?)

But there’s so much that’s left to the imagination here. Do they have opposable thumbs? What do they want? Do they serve some dark cosmic being, or are they all Gollums-without-rings, lurking about in dark places and going on and on about eating raw fish?

The answers to those questions can be happily campaign or even location-specific, with card-cheat, pants-wearing nothics in one location and feral, face-chewing nothics in another. But there are deeper issues with this description that cripple its utility at the table. How does their Rotting Gaze attack work? Is it a beam that shoots from the eye, and if so, can it be reflected with a mirror? Or does the nothic just manifest wild entropy in the flesh of its target? Or is it some sort of necrotic tear-spray?

In a computer game, the differences are fairly academic. In a tabletop RPG, they’re vital. Knowing something of how the attack works answers questions like:

  • can it penetrate magical defenses? Fog? Smoke?
  • can one character try to block the attack by leaping between the nothic and its target?
  • does the attack damage gear? Can it be used against inanimate objects like doors, ropes, chains, or blindfolds?
  • can the PCs harvest it and use it against foes after killing a nothic?

And that’s just what I can come up with off the top of my head about how players will tackle this odd critter. With only the (nearly complete lack of) clues in the description, it’s impossible to guess, which means nothics in one campaign will be fleeing at the sight of mirrors while in others they will be flinging necrotic tears with wild abandon.

Which isn’t that huge an issue in home games but is HUGE in organized play. And I kinda thought WotC wanted organized play to be a big thing now? 

And that all said, the weird insight ability is awesome! Can the nothic search for a secret in particular, or are they random? If the former, they’d make excellent interrogators and (ha-ha) private eyes.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, the monster list in the Starter Set probably only covers the monsters that appear in the adventure contained in it, so the Nothic may be depicted and described in the part which details the actual bit where they're encountered.

In terms of how Rotting Gaze works: it does this attack against any creature than it can see. Under "senses" we're told that the thing has truesight up to 120ft. Presumably truesight is explained elsewhere, but I think most folk based off that should be able to judge what does and doesn't block the gaze. If it blocks truesight, it stops the gaze, if it doesn't it doesn't. (There may also be specific details on how gaze attacks work.)

trollsmyth said...

refereeinandreflection: good point about the nothic and its habits possibly being described in the adventure.

As for truesight, My first thought was that it was the post-TSR version of ultravision, but that's not right. It's probably something closer to the spell from 3.x.

Blocking's not the only thing here. Can it be reflected? Does it affect inanimate objects? (Right now I'd guess that yes, it does vs. plant and animal matter, but not stone or metal because it's described as "necrotic". So your bandana or leather cloak used as a blindfold would be disintegrated. But the implication from the description is that it only affects living targets.)

JDJarvis said...

I can't help but notice the Ogre on the same page. 7d10+ for HP and 2D8+ damage for it's attack and it's a challenge 2 monster. A definite degree of numbers inflation compared to earlier editions.

trollsmyth said...

JDJarvis: yeah, no real surprise on the ogre's hit points. They've been talking a lot about spreading the range of levels a monster is useful over, and beefing the hit points is an easy way to do that. Combine with a low AC (11) and you have a monster that, singly, a party can gang up on and wear down or, as part of a mob, can at least act as a tar-pit against high level characters.

Anonymous said...

Having thought about the point with organised play enough, I've decided that Wizards may have, on balance, decided that getting extremely anal about ensuring a consistent play experience across tables is more off-putting than players having to deal with a variable play experience.

The fact that you can engage with the organised play stuff through your at-home campaign, provided you fill out the forms at the end, is kind of a case in point. Nothing really stops home groups from just awarding themselves close-to-maximum XP and treasure at the end of the game and reporting that to the Adventurer's League except honour.

trollsmyth said...

refereeingandreflection: very good point. It's going to be interesting to see where they take that. I'm going to refrain from making too many predictions in that direction, since the whole idea of organized play seems completely antithetical to why I play RPGs. ;p

5stonegames said...

There is a picture of the Nothic from I guess 4e just below the starter preview on ENWorld

Its about as hideous as might be expcted

trollsmyth said...

5stonegames: yep, pretty derpy in my book.

But don't count out the chance that WotC might seriously re-imagine it. After all, the lamia want from scary woman-beast to kooky hive-of-insects. And weirds became a lot cooler when they stopped being leap-out, gotcha snakes made out of water.

Syrsuro said...

A few comments:

First, having been playing/ DMing the playtest since before the open playtest started, I was glad to see the Ogre's hp increased. Even in the latest packets it had only 32 hp and was underpowered for appropriately leveled opponents.

Second, I think it is a fair asusmption that there will be Nothic art somewhere in the adventure.

Third, this is a stripped down ruleset with just what the DM needs to run the included adventure. The Nothic will have a role in that adventure and that will fill in many questions about their 'ecology.' And as I understand it, when the full game comes out, the monster manual will have quite a bit more information about the monsters aside from their stat blocks. So I would assume many of your questions would be addressed there.

Finally - the question of reflection. Comparing the Nothic's 'gaze' attack to the Medusa gaze from the playtest makes it pretty clear that it cannot be reflected (for example, the Medusa attack both requires that the gaze be met and specifies that it can be reflected). But, even if that wasn't the case, why do you presume that the answer to this question need be in the rules rather than determinable by each DM according to their whim/ needs?


Antonio said...

Well, when I started playing with the Mentzer D&D, I had no idea what many monsters where, the descriptions didn't help, and there were precious few illustrations. So I suppose the new generation of players will have to make their imaginations work again ;)

trollsmyth said...

Carl: But, even if that wasn't the case, why do you presume that the answer to this question need be in the rules rather than determinable by each DM according to their whim/ needs?

Because they seem to be pushing organized play pretty hard. Organized play requires a higher level of fidelity between games. If one group of PCs has to perform a series of complex outflanking combats with nothics, and another simply glues mirrors to their helmets and traipses through without issue, that's a problem. Primarily because a DM running an organized play module has a lot less leeway to adjust the adventure. The folks with the mirrors are going to be bored, in effect punished for their cleverness. That's uncool.

Antonio: Moldvay didn't include a picture of a stirge in his version of Basic, but he at least told me that a stirge was "a birdlike creature with a long nose, looking rather like a very small feathered anteater." And, with that knowledge, when the PCs wanted to make a deal with the goblin chief, I could have him ask for a robe of stirge feathers as part of the bargain.